Buyer’s Guide: How to Tell Which Athletic Shoe is for What

There’s a lot of shoes out there, enough to be overwhelming. And while in-store employees can help choose one that’s right for you, online ordering remains popular. So if you’re having trouble figuring out what to look for in a pair to suit your needs, look no further than our 5-minute crash course guide, right here.

Running Shoes

Light, cushioned, and breathable, runners almost universally feel great. While many boast special “stability” features for reducing injury, your best guide is simply the “comfort filter”. There is mounting evidence that injuries are reduced more because of how you personally feel in the shoe (and also your running form, but comfort level influences that) than by the traditional “neutral/overpronation” paradigm. Look for shoes with a fair amount of rubber coverage on their sole, with a lot of grooves. If the entire bottom is covered in rubber, it’s not a running shoe. The upper will also be almost entirely mesh or knit. Only a few budget-models now use leather. If the front and heel curve upwards, you’re in business.

Training Shoes

Training shoes are typically much firmer than running shoes and with a flat base for stability. Even so, training shoes can range in philosophy from minimalist, flexibilty-based models that rely on the natural movement of the human body, to heavy and sturdy versions designed for heavy weightlifting.

The ones found in between those extremes can superficially resemble running shoes, but note their flat soles, lower profile, and stiffer upper material.

Tennis Shoes

Designed for quick cuts without the extensive jumping of basketball, shoes for tennis need to both provide maneuverability and lateral stability. They have solid soles with maximum surface contact with the ground and stiff mesh or leather caging on the upper. Make sure you know whether the shoe you’re looking at is designed for clay or concrete.

Basketball Shoes

Sitting somewhere between running and training shoes in terms of functionality, basketball shoes feature impact-absorbing cushioning, as well as stability to provide a platform on which to produce maximum force. Their cushioning setup ranges from maximum “court feel” (or lower to the ground) to high impact protection, athlough the models most beloved provide a blend of both. It just depends on your size and style.

Their “secret ingredient” however, is a plastic or carbon fiber midfoot shank that adds torsional (or twisting) restistance against the quick, multi-directional movements of the sport. If you turn a heavier shoe over and see a rock-hard piece of material where your arch would be, it’s almost guaranteed to be a basketball shoe.

Often sporting a mid- or high-top design, basketball shoes don’t excel at at either weightlifting or running, but are superb for agility training and can provide a lot of comfort for heavier wearers, since they’re deisgned to handle 200lbs/90kg+ athletes who produce a ton of force.

Skate/Casual

Somewhat of a sibling to both basketball and training shoes, skate shoes evolved from the earliest athletic shoes, like the Converse Chuck Taylor. But while those other breeds added advanced technology and more varied aesthetics, skate shoes remained minimalist in almost every sense (besides that brief period in the 1990s and 2000s when they went full chonk). Their flat, bottom-heavy design makes them popular for weightlifting, and you can even still sort of play basketball in them (although your knees won’t take kindly to it), but they are best left to their natural home on the sidewalk.

Casual shoes then further evolved from Chucks and Vans, by using cheaper, thinner canvas and removing some rows of lacing, as well as taking design influence for their uppers from boat and dress shoes. They can still be used for some athletic purposes, like Powerlifting, but their lack of support and cushion makes more dynamic movements dangerous.

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